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Not Your Average Scientist: What It's Like To Be A Cognitive Genetics Scientist And A Pin-up Girl.

It is my mission to help women who major in STEM-related fields feel more represented. There’s this assumption that if you major in a STEM-related field that it has to become your entire identity. That you have to fit into the mold of what most people think a STEM major should be like. Male, simplistic style, and have no other interests except for the field you majored in. That assumption is what scares many women away from majoring in such fields. They feel like they would have to change who they are and part with all their other interests. But that’s simply not true. I spoke to Elisa; a pink-haired cognitive genetics scientist who certainly does not fit into the mold of what most people think a scientist should be or look like. I asked her about her experiences as a pin-up in her field of work.


It is my mission to help women who major in STEM-related fields feel more represented. There’s this assumption that if you major in a STEM-related field that it has to become your entire identity. That you have to fit into the mold of what most people think a STEM major should be like. Male, simplistic style, and have no other interests except for the field you majored in. That assumption is what scares many women away from majoring in such fields. They feel like they would have to change who they are and part with all their other interests. But that’s simply not true. I spoke to Elisa; a pink-haired cognitive genetics scientist who certainly does not fit into the mold of what most people think a scientist should be or look like. I asked her about her experiences as a pin-up in her field of work.

Q: How did you know you wanted to become a scientist?

A: "My brother was with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome; a genetic syndrome that causes severe mental, physical, and developmental impairments. So, as a little girl, I would say that I wanted to find 'a cure' for my brother. While in high school, science actually wasn't my strongest subject. I had a growing interest in anything genetic. I initially wanted to become a MD, but in Belgium, we have to take an entrance exam. I didn't score high enough to enroll in that university program. Luckily, perhaps, because that's how I got into biomedical sciences, and that turned out to be more of my place."

Q: What’s been your experience as a scientist and a vintage fashion enthusiast?

A: "Like anywhere, there's always haters or people that tend to take me less seriously or capable. I do feel like I have to prove myself more as a scientist and PhD student to certain people because of the way I dress. But the majority of people in my workplace are very positive and enthusiastic about my style and actually look forward to my outfits. Sometimes, when I 'dress down,' I get comments like: 'oh no, no floaty dress today?' "

Q: You’re open about your struggles with anxiety and depression.  What are your tips for overcoming mental health obstacles? 

A: “It was pretty scary at first to open up about this. Especially because I personally feel like academia is still very reserved about this subject. So, I hope that by opening up others in a similar position feel heard and less alone. 

It is my mission to help women who major in STEM-related fields feel more represented. There’s this assumption that if you major in a STEM-related field that it has to become your entire identity. That you have to fit into the mold of what most people think a STEM major should be like. Male, simplistic style, and have no other interests except for the field you majored in. That assumption is what scares many women away from majoring in such fields. They feel like they would have to change who they are and part with all their other interests. But that’s simply not true. I spoke to Elisa; a pink-haired cognitive genetics scientist who certainly does not fit into the mold of what most people think a scientist should be or look like. I asked her about her experiences as a pin-up in her field of work.

So in that regard, my biggest tip for overcoming mental health obstacles is trying to be open about it towards your environment. It's important to have at least one person who knows what you're going through. Someone that you feel safe to reach out to and that listens to you. Knowing I don't have to constantly put on my 'brave face' and being able to show I’m struggling to someone has been a very big relief for me. Another tip I find important in academia is to dare to say no. In academia, it's become a standard to be overloaded with work tasks, and you're expected to supervise an additional student or review another paper without even asking if it fits your agenda.

It might sound stupid, but I had to re-learn what a realistic agenda looks like and what my personal limits were. I feel easier saying no now knowing my own limits because now my mind can clearly "justify" it as 'this just isn't possible physically, mentally, or time-wise.' instead of 'people might think I"m lazy.' ”

Q: What do you think about the lack of women in STEM related fields?

A: “I personally find the lack of women in STEM is heavily related to the fact that we still have to prove ourselves in this "manly" field. I still feel these expectations for women to become moms and stay at  home to take care of the kids rather than running a lab. There are still so little female professors, because of this in my opinion, I don't think women in STEM should have to choose between an (academic) career or a family. So I would love to see more women in STEM!”

It is my mission to help women who major in STEM-related fields feel more represented. There’s this assumption that if you major in a STEM-related field that it has to become your entire identity. That you have to fit into the mold of what most people think a STEM major should be like. Male, simplistic style, and have no other interests except for the field you majored in. That assumption is what scares many women away from majoring in such fields. They feel like they would have to change who they are and part with all their other interests. But that’s simply not true. I spoke to Elisa; a pink-haired cognitive genetics scientist who certainly does not fit into the mold of what most people think a scientist should be or look like. I asked her about her experiences as a pin-up in her field of work.

Q: What are your tips and your advice for women who want to get into STEM related fields?

A: ”Stay true to yourself! And you can interpret this very broadly. Keep your hobbies, interests, and extracurricular activities (even if they are totally not related to STEM). You WORK in science. That doesn't mean you ARE science and you can't be interested in anything else. Don't let anyone suggest how you should dress or wear makeup and don't doubt your own capabilities in this male-dominated field.”

Q: What are your style tips?

A: “I think my number one  tip would be to stay true to yourself. Wear what makes YOU happy and feel comfortable and pretty. Keep a certain level of practicality in mind for certain work-related tasks. On days where I know I'm going to have a lot of wet lab work, I don't wear a petticoat (because of my lab coat). So I wear layers (because of my lab coat, it  might get hot in there) and accessorize accordingly. (For example, no clinging bangles.)"

Q: Who are your style icons?

A: “Perhaps the classic answer: Marilyn Monroe. She was my first ever encounter with vintage and Old Hollywood as a little girl, and she will always have that special place in my heart.

But on the daily basis, I draw a lot of style inspiration from a variety of Instagram accounts ranging from "modern pinup styles'' like Miss Victory Violet, Dafna Bar-el, and Miss Audrey Sweetblack. For more "authentic vintage styles" such as Marion Dollykitten and Noortje Laan; to more groovy looks like Miss Chris Official, FreyaVintage, and Keiko Lynn.

It is my mission to help women who major in STEM-related fields feel more represented. There’s this assumption that if you major in a STEM-related field that it has to become your entire identity. That you have to fit into the mold of what most people think a STEM major should be like. Male, simplistic style, and have no other interests except for the field you majored in. That assumption is what scares many women away from majoring in such fields. They feel like they would have to change who they are and part with all their other interests. But that’s simply not true. I spoke to Elisa; a pink-haired cognitive genetics scientist who certainly does not fit into the mold of what most people think a scientist should be or look like. I asked her about her experiences as a pin-up in her field of work.

Q: Any new projects you’d like us to know about?

A: "I’m working on finishing my PhD track and finally getting the doctorate title. That means I have to defend my work from the past 5 years to a scientific committee, still a big hurdle for the coming months. A  project I am debating is doing a little range of Miss Stella Starbrite "merchendise.” That would include stickers, keychains, and shirts. Heavily loaded with pink of course! 

Other than that, I don't really have concrete projects planned out yet. But when the stress of my PhD is over, I'm hoping to do more fun collaborations like this interview with other lovely ladies from the vintage community to spread more "vintage style, not vintage values" and mental health awareness."


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